How do we proclaim the gospel? One way is to do so exclusively with words, to tell the story of Jesus and what His death and resurrection accomplished. But the Lord has appointed another way to proclaim the gospel that involves words as well as tangible substances and actions. For, as we see in today’s passage, we proclaim Christ’s death when we eat the bread and drink the cup in the Lord’s Supper.
When we consider what happens in the supper, we understand how the supper can proclaim Christ’s death. In the breaking of the bread, we have a visible representation of the breaking of our Savior’s body by the nails that pierced His hands and feet and the sword that pierced His side. The wine poured into the cup depicts the blood that poured from His wounds as He died on the cross. When we taste the bitterness of the wine, we are reminded of the bitterness of God’s wrath that Jesus bore on the cross. Various spiritual truths are conveyed to our physical senses. It is important to note, however, that without the words of institution for the supper and the preaching of the Word, these truths cannot be conveyed. We need at least a basic explanation of what is going on; otherwise, we will not know how eating the bread and drinking the wine in the Lord’s Supper differ from our eating bread and drinking wine at other times. Thus, we see that Paul gives us these words even as He tells us what the Lord’s Supper proclaims (1 Cor. 11:23–26).
Paul explains that in the supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (v. 26). This confirms that the remembrance that Jesus says is to occur in the supper (Luke 22:19) is a perpetual remembrance. In other words, the Lord’s Supper is something we partake of perpetually in the Christian life. Baptism, as the sacrament of initiation, is received only once. The Lord’s Supper, as the sacrament of continuation, is received continually until we are in the Lord’s presence, whether we die first or He returns in glory.
In the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death but we are also testifying that this death has benefited us. Calvin comments on today’s passage that in the supper, we “declare before men what we feel inwardly before God.” We are testifying that we have faith in Christ, that His promise to cover our sin has taken effect in our lives. If we partake of the supper without faith, we place ourselves in grave spiritual danger (1 Cor. 11:27–30).